Off To The New College World ...

Sammy Johnson, 2020 freshman at Chapman University, heads off into a new college world.

We’re six months in to the new COVID-America and students are preparing to head back to school for the fall.

As the mother of a freshman heading to an undefined college experience, and having just finished a very stilted senior year in high school, there were two questions that seemed obvious to me ... and so I asked my freshman daughter:

What is it like when you come home from spring break your high school senior year and realize something called COVID-19 takes away all that you worked for to become an official high school graduate?


How do you feel when you are accepted to your first choice college on a scholarship, complete all the paperwork, your parents pay tuition, you get excited about meeting your roommate, taking college courses, playing your sport…. then realize that COVID thing is going to interrupt your college life too?

This is a story that is familiar to so many families. We are all living life at a standstill waiting for “normal” to come back into our lives. This interruption is part of my daughter’s life. How is she supposed to feel? How am I supposed to feel? How are her and her friends coping with yet another disappointment?

My daughter, Sammy Johnson, waited for months to hear from Chapman University on whether they would have classes on campus in 2020. She is a college freshman excited about leaving home, becoming independent and meeting new people in a new place. Chapman is located in Orange County, California and they have been on the California watch list for some time. After waiting as long as possible, we got the call that all classes would be on line for the foreseeable future. This was a huge disappointment for Sammy. But as her mom, I have to admit I was hiding in my room secretly hoping the University would decide to have the students stay home for the time being. I was not sad about their decision. Is that wrong? I am a known germaphobe, so this was the best outcome for me. It was not the best outcome for Sammy.

I could feel her pain and see the sadness on her face. Not to mention, the prospect of spending more time locked up with mom at home!

“I can’t believe I am going to spend my college freshman year at home with you” Sammy said right to my face. “I truly did not want to have you as a roommate”.

My initial reaction to these comments from my daughter was sadness. “I am a great roommate Sammy,” I answered.

“Mom, I am missing out on the entire freshman college experience.”

Once the damage to my ego healed, I realized Sammy was right. This was another blow to college students everywhere. Something they should not have to endure. I decided to talk to Sammy and help her understand that this too shall pass. (OMG moment - I sound just like my Mother.)

As Sammy and I let the reality of a home school semester set in, we talked about her fears and frustrations. Sammy told me, “Mom, I know it’s safer not to go and Chapman is making a smart decision based on facts.I just wanted to go off to college like everyone else does.”

“Do you dislike being at home with me”?

“I don’t dislike it because I still have some freedoms with rules attached, but I have lost my independence, my opportunity to make new friends, join clubs, play my sport, and take college classes the real way.”

These are such hard things to hear and even harder to map out something that will make it better. I told Sammy that we are a team and we will get through this like we would any other hardship – together.

We are now through our first week of college classes and the reality that college will be a zoom experience is true. Sammy wakes up for early classes every day and turns on her computer to see her classmates and her professors.

They solve problems. They discuss books. They study languages. They decipher the syllabus for the semester. More importantly they laugh and smile and support one another.

“I am trying to treat this experience as normal as possible,” Sammy said. “I interact with my classmates on zoom, attend my classes and do the work. I also talk with people at Chapman through social media to keep up the personal contact.”

I am proud of my daughter and every student for staying positive and making the best of a hard situation. When asked her hopes from here she says, “I want campus to open as soon as possible, but only when it’s truly safe.

“I am ready for us all to be together enjoying normal activities, social gatherings, learning in person, and seeing a smile instead of a mask.”

As we approach the continuation of this semester with the new normal, it reminds me that this class of students is not the first to endure disappointment, change, and a harsh reality. Our country has been through wars, pandemics, 9/11, and many situations that halted our normal way of living. The Class of 2020 has a proud and strong legion that has come before them to show that we can get through anything if we work together.

I know I am not the only parent that is proud of their child for facing this challenge with grit and a smile. So for now, I am a happy mom who enjoys the extra time I have been given to be Sammy’s “roommate.” I have come out of hiding and pray that the pandemic ends and I am able to drop my daughter off at college with a smile on both of our faces.

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